Behavioral Ecology and Insect Sociobiology
Department of Biology
306A Mugar Life Sciences
360 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115 USA
- Ph.D., Boston University
- B.S., Boston University
- Visiting Associate Professor, Dept. of Immunology and Microbiology, Stanford University. (2010)
- Research Assistant Professor, Dept. Biology, Boston University. (2001 – 2004)
- Research Associate, Dept. Biology, Boston University. (1996 – 1999)
- Postdoctoral Fellow, Dept. Biology, Boston University. (1993 -1996)
- Assistant Professor, Centro de Ecología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México City. (1992 – 1993)
My research tries to understand the factors that may have selected for the evolution of termite sociality. I have hypothesized that pathogens and/or parasites may have played important selection forces that favored the evolution of complex insect societies. This evolutionary question is studied by focusing on the adaptations that termites have evolved in order to resist disease. Termites nest, feed and forage in microbially-rich environments and their colonies are composed of thousands of individuals which could easily become infected either through the direct contact with pathogens or indirectly through the social interactions among nestmates. Yet, in spite the high risks of infection, termites thrive within their nests. What are the means by which these insects cope with disease? What are the costs and benefits of group-living with respect to disease susceptibility and disease resistance? My research has established that termites use several, and often simultaneous mechanisms to reduce the risks of infection, including behavioral, biochemical, immunological and social adaptations. This line of work has now expanded to consider the role of pathogenic microbes on the evolution of both termite mating strategies and social immunity whereby social interactions facilitate disease resistance at the colony-level. My research is at the interface of evolutionary biology, behavioral and chemical ecology, immunology and genetics. Termites, as well as all other social insects, represent excellent social test organisms to answer questions about the emerging field of “socioecoimmunology”. Our field work takes place at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and at the Redwoods in California.
My teaching activities include a freshman course for Biology majors focusing on organismal biology, an area of Biology that deals with how living organisms evolve, survive, reproduce and interact with the abiotic and biotic factors. We review the morphological, physiological, and behavioral ways in which individual organisms meet the challenges posed by the environment in which they live, all within an evolutionary perspective. Additionally, I teach a course entitled Sociobiology for both graduate and undergraduate students, where we strive to understand the biological basis of social behavior in animals. Why do animals live in societies? Why do animals cooperate and why do they sometimes show extreme forms of altruism? What are the costs and benefits associated with group living? Sociobiology is a multi-disciplinary science, meshing together ethology (animal behavior), ecology, genetics, population biology, and comparative psychology, all within the conceptual framework of evolutionary theory. I also have co-taught an Entomology course intended for graduate and undergraduate students and have overseen graduate-level seminars. A particular interest of mine includes supervising undergraduate research in my laboratory. Students receive credit for performing research. The students are responsible for developing an experimental design, carrying the experiment, analyzing and interpreting their data, participating in lab meetings and presenting their results to all lab members as well as preparing manuscripts and poster presentations. Thus, the students experience the entire gamut of responsibilities related to scientific inquiry.